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Gangs of Glasgow: True Crime From the Streets

Gangs of Glasgow: True Crime From the Streets

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Gangs of Glasgow: True Crime From the Streets

234 pagine
5 ore
Jul 19, 2008


In the twenty-first century, Glasgow is still a city living down a fearsome reputation for crime. And for some citizens of the Dear Green Place, brawling is in the blood and gang warfare is a way of life. The stinking deprivation of the Gorbals and the East End, deprivation that helped spawn pre-war gangs like the Billy Boys, the Norman Conks and the Redskins, is largely gone, but in each era new gangs have risen to take their place. Battles over turf and control of the drugs trade still regularly make the headlines. Now newly updated, Gangs of Glasgow takes an in-depth look at the gripping evolution of the city's gangs from the days of the Penny Mob, through the extortion, slashings and street fighting of the Thirties to the smart-suited men of violence of the modern day.
Jul 19, 2008

Informazioni sull'autore

Robert Jeffrey is a long-serving Glasgow journalist and the former managing editor of the Herald group of newspapers. His many best-sellers include Glasgow’s Hard Men, Blood on the Streets, Glasgow's Godfather and Crimes Past.

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Gangs of Glasgow - Robert Jeffrey




The story of the gangs of Glasgow teaches a hard lesson. They simply refuse to go away. Crimelords rise and fall, Chief Constables come and go. In the war against big city violence battles are won and lost. But the gangs are an enduring blight on a city that in many other ways … an impressive growth of modern architecture, burgeoning tourism and a new flourishing climate of culture and the arts … has transformed itself. In fact the changing face of Glasgow is as impressive a success story as you will find anywhere in the world. The problem with crime is far from unique – it is hard to think of any city, particularly a seaport, with a similar historic background of heavy industry, poverty, and poor housing that does not have a residual problem with violence and drugs. Glasgow’s problems cannot and should not be swept from sight.

The ongoing nature of crime in the city can be demonstrated by recent events at the infamous BAR-L, the nickname every Glaswegian uses for Barlinnie Prison, the huge, grim edifice glimpsed by drivers passing through the east end on the busy M8. In April 2008 the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Dr Andrew McClellan, told the BBC that the BAR-L was running at 50 percent over capacity. A percentage of the inmates might be minor offenders who could have been dealt with without the need for a custodial sentence, but the fact remains that Barlinnie is still bursting at the seams with hard men despite the activities of a succession of ‘gang busters’ down the years.

The most recent crimelord, Tam The Licensee McGraw, died from an apparent heart attack in July 2007 – a somewhat ironic demise for a man who for years was at the heart of violence in the city and who had many serious enemies among the players on the streets. Many saw it as the end of an era.

For a number of years McGraw and Paul Ferris – now claiming to be a reformed character – had been the names in the tabloid headlines, the public face of the evildoers in the city. But they were only the latest in a long line stretching from the end of the nineteenth century to today. The earliest of the gangs is said to be the Penny Mob and they and similar outfits dominated their own era. In similar fashion the Brigton Billy Boys (led by the legendary Billy Fullerton) and the Norman Conks (led by Bull Bowman) made the headlines in the thirties. In this era the most famous of all gang busters and Chief Constables – Sir Percy Sillitoe – often met violence with violence and headed a police force that had considerable success in this most violent of criminal times in the city.

The Second World War ended that particular crusade against crime. And after the Hitler war was won there were new battles on the streets and the emergence of such Godfathers of crime as Walter Norval and Arthur Thompson Snr. McGraw and Ferris walked in the footsteps of such men.

In the years just before and just after the turn of the twentieth century the city was enjoying one of its cyclical periods of relative calm when Glaswegians’ view of their city was cruelly jolted back to reality in the spring of 2002.

There was another of the regular sea changes in crime in the city that have occurred down the years. Suddenly violence had reappeared on the agenda. The renaissance brought about by the Year of Culture, the Garden Festival, the new Concert Hall, the Burrell collection and the seemingly unstoppable growth of book-shops, trendy restaurants and pavement café life was somewhat overshadowed by dramatic events on the streets.

The return to the bad old days of inter-gang warfare, of evil factions fighting for power and turf and settling old scores in the nastiest of ways, was particularly shocking simply because for some years much of the reporting of it had largely dropped out of newspapers.

The citizens of the Dear Green Place had begun to believe their own publicity a little too much. The old city, now with the grime on tenement walls blasted away, and new exciting city centre and riverside architecture providing a superficial gloss, was, however, shown to be not as far removed from its old reputation as something akin to a Chicago of far north west Europe as the douce burghers had grown to believe.

In April and May the fashionable caffe latte-sippers had their attention jolted from the latest pontificating arts reviews that take up so much space in the city’s papers these days, and found themselves once again reading of the doings of old-fashioned gangsters. The concept of these new battles for power is little different from the past. But the style of the warriors is far removed from that of the gangsters of the twenties or thirties or indeed the hoodlums and corner boy gangs of the seventies and eighties. Control of the drugs trade has become, for the major gangs, the main driving force. There are still battles in the schemes between small groups of youths staking claim to territory and fighting over their molls. Indeed there is a massive upsurge in knife-related crime across Scotland, not just in Glasgow. In the cliché of the tabloids, blade culture is back.

In the six years since the watershed of the return of violence to the headlines the culture of the knife has continued to grow. 2002 marked a return to bad old ways, and on several occasions since then there have been headlines and incidents that dwarfed the bloody past. Early in 2006 a conference in the city was given dramatic confirmation of the problem. A top casualty surgeon graphically described the injuries of victims wheeled into the operating theatre on Friday and Saturday nights.

Eight years into the new century street violence is as rampant as it ever has been. Skulls are still cracked and faces disfigured.

But if knife-carrying and booze and drug-fuelled rumbles at the weekend is a return to old ways, it is rather different for the major players in gangland. Now the gangster is no longer a sad-looking loner in a sleazy bar with his pallid chib-marked face showing him to be a man of many disputes, perhaps mad, perhaps bad, but certainly dangerous to tangle with.

The hoodlum of the twenty-first century presents a different face to the public. Even if the city still had its famous shoogly trams you can be sure he would not be taking them, even to ride about the streets of the east end where so much blood has been spilled over the years.

The preferred method of transport for the big boys these days is the 4x4 recreational vehicle, heavily chromed and as powerful as possible. The hell with what the green lobby might think of these vehicles and never mind that such a status symbol of a vehicle is destined never to muddy a tyre with off-road excursions other than a quick trip up a rutted and unlighted back alley where a little business might be done.

Behind the wheel will be a man with the expected gold jewellery dripping from every visible part of his body. His suits are designer gear bought with no thought to expense and some would say even less to taste. One item of clothing though is shockingly standard – a bullet proof vest.

The home of such a man is mostly likely be an expensive pile in a desirable suburb. The days when godfathers lived in a tenement flat surrounded by the people whose lives they bilked and blighted are long gone. The house will perhaps be decorated in a style not familiar to the neighbours. But the neighbours in the leafy avenues will note with little surprise that the boot of the four wheel drive recreational vehicle contains an expensive set of golf clubs.

These clubs may be standard equipment, with top of the range labels and built to the approval of the regulations of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, but they are not solely for use on the manicured fairways of the elitist clubs of the West of Scotland. They are a designer weapon for the new street warrior.

One gang member interviewed in the late sixties mentioned a number of weapons … hatchets, hammers, knives, meat cleavers, meat hooks, bayonets, machetes, open razors, sharp-tailed combs, bottles, tumblers, bricks and sticks. It was a sign of less sophisticated criminal times that this particular young street fighter omitted to mention firearms. However to that fearsome list of gangland weaponry can now be added golf clubs as well as guns.

The golf clubs have the added advantage that when the owner is stopped by some inquisitive, and brave, cop they can easily be explained away: just popping down the coast for a few holes, officer.

A whack over the head with a nine iron can do some considerable damage and is hard to forgive or forget. And forgetting is a concept that down the years the Glasgow gangster has had extreme difficulty in accepting. The merest slight lingers on in the memory as a score that some day must be settled.

The spring 2002 outbreak of highly visible street violence appears to have started when Tam McGraw, a gangster who always denied wrongdoing, but was considered to be a contender for the criminal accolade of Godfather in succession to such as Walter Norval and Arthur Thompson, was allegedly attacked by a knife-wielding assailant in the street in daylight. McGraw, aka The Licensee to everyone in the east end where he once ran a notorious bar called the Caravel, had an interesting life style. His sobriquet may have come from his bar-owning background or, as his enemies would claim, because he had a licence to operate. It is a matter of much debate.

In 1988 he was accused of bank rolling a major drug-running operation and stood trial in Edinburgh, defended by perhaps Scotland’s current most famous pleader Donald Findlay Q.C. The trial was a lengthy, expensive affair lasting fifty-five days. But at the end of it Thomas McGraw walked free after the jury returned a not proven verdict.

His release came after a masterful performance by the flamboyant Q.C. who had told the court that his client was an Arthur Daley figure, ducking and diving, but that there was not one scrap of evidence to link his money with the buying of drugs in Spain.

Mr McGraw, renowned as a man of few words, was not moved on this occasion, by his court room success, to break the habit of a lifetime. Asked for a comment by reporters he told them to f*** off and disappeared from the scene in his black Mercedes.

The source of his wealth had been discussed in court by Mr Findlay, who talked of his legitimate activities, a cash and carry business, ice cream vans and the aforementioned Caravel pub.

It was the police belief that the customers in this particular howff discussed much thuggery and lawbreaking. Anyone brave enough to be thinking of a quick tourist trip to gawp at a legendary underworld site and enjoy a sip of the amber nectar in the company of some seriously no-good citizens can forget it. The Caravel is no more – bulldozed in mysterious circumstances. Underworld informers had suggested to the police that customers might have had a role in the infamous deaths of Joe Bananas Hanlon and Bobby Glover, who were found shot dead in a car on the day of the funeral of Arthur Thompson’s son Fat Boy. But after the demolition, forensic examination of the premises was not possible, and an avenue of inquiry, as the police might say, was closed forever.

The lifestyle of this particular Glasgow business man is reported to include driving a luxury Japanese 4x4, a home in the sunshine of Tenerife, property interests in Ireland and a house in the Mount Vernon district said to be worth many hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Initial reports said he was badly injured in the attack, but one thing is for sure – the wise precaution of wearing a bullet-proof vest saved him from more serious injury. The Kevlar coat worked its magic and the injuries, which turned out to be relatively minor, were patched up in the private Ross Hall hospital in Crookston, a place more commonly used to monitor the heartbeats of worried stockbrokers than give succour to victims of knife attacks in the street.

All this renewed spilling of bad blood was part of an interlocking jigsaw of hard men who knew each other and were in a battle for power.

According to some reports the man The Licensee was brawling with was Paul Ferris, a former adjutant of McGraw’s. At the time Ferris was not long out of jail after serving a sentence for gun running. But he soon found himself briefly back behind bars for allegedly breaching his parole regulations. The safety of a return to prison could have been a welcome, if temporary, respite, for Paul Ferris has many enemies in the city and the word on the streets was that there was a contract out on him.

Such whispers have always surrounded Ferris. In the summer of 2006 the tabloids claimed there was a new contract out on him. This time it was said that Rita Thompson, old Arthur’s widow, had left cash in her will to pay for a hit on Ferris despite his continuing claims of going straight. Ferris laughed off the stories.

Ferris had been released early in 2002 from Durham jail after serving four years of a seven-year sentence. Back in Glasgow he immediately made a series of TV and newspaper interviews in which he pledged to go straight. He even co-authored a novel which drew heavily on his earlier life as a villain. Unsurprisingly the declarations of turning over the proverbial new leaf were greeted by the police and his associates and rivals with some scepticism.

As in the past, this criminal côterie, involving Ferris, the infamous Barlanark Team and the remnants of Arthur Thompson’s army, are well known to the police who have on occasion said, off the record, that the sight of drug barons taking each other out is not a problem.

But after the new trouble on the streets and a high profile return to jail, Ferris was released as there was said to be no reason to hold him longer. No talk of breaching parole regulations. Later we will return to the fall out from that decision and the new battles and intrigues of big-time crime in Glasgow in the twenty-first century.

As in all criminal societies, the hoods of Glasgow have their own strange codes which survive the passing of the years, a regular supply of new chief constables and new anti-crime initiatives of all sorts.

Friends fall out and friendships are reformed. There are some remarkable instances of this. For example, a security guard – a business claimed by some to be infiltrated with gangsters using it as a front – likes to tell the tale over a pint or six of a couple of school friends who fell into dispute. One knifed the other who went on to get a few thousand pounds in compensation. The episode with the blade notwithstanding, the two made up and when the compo arrived, the victim was so pally with his one-time assailant that he donated half the cash to him!

In true Mafia style much of this sort of friendship is about respect. Interestingly about the time all this was happening in Glasgow, in 2002 the legendary Joe Bonanno died in Arizona at the age of ninety-seven, which is remarkable considering the life he led. Proof that the bad guys sometimes survive longer than you would expect. Like Arthur Thompson, Glasgow’s most famous Godfather – or business man as he liked to style himself – Bonanno died of a heart attack. ‘Joe Bananas’ trade was narcotics, gambling and pornography, and it was helped along the way with a strategic murder or two, including the ordering of the killing of an old friend of his father. He rose to head five New York Mafia families.

But his request for respect was merely the call of the Glasgow gangster writ large. He was in his own eyes a man of honour. It is impossible to underestimate the ego of such men. Joe Bananas actually called a book he wrote Man of Honour and then tried to sue his publisher, claiming that he was portrayed on the cover as a cheap gangster.

Bonanno might have been out of the headlines for some time, but not long after he died came the demise of another worldwide gang legend, John Gotti. The Dapper Don, as he was known, also died in his bed – from cancer. But this time the bed was in a prison hospital where the man who was the most famous American gangster since Al Capone found himself after a murder trial.

Intriguingly the events on the New York streets brought to mind the High Court trial of Glasgow Godfather Walter Norval, when the court was fire bombed in an attempt to stop the trial by destroying documents and scaring witnesses. Much the same happened in the States at the Gotti trial and there was a plethora of bomb scares, absent defendants, allegations of witness intimidation and even the murder of an associate whose car was blown up. Anywhere gangsters run, the police face the problems of witnesses too scared to talk. A classic example of this involved Gotti, when a stabbing victim overstayed his time in hospital and when finally appearing on the stand found himself surprisingly unable to identify his assailant, Gotti. I Forgotti said a classic headline in the New York Daily News the next day.

In another remarkable escape from the clutches of the law, Gotti was accused of assaulting a union official. He told the arresting officer I’ll lay you three to one I beat it. He did. Helped along the way by the fact that the victim who had been shot four times gave evidence for the defence!

Gotti finally went to the cells for a long stretch for his part in the murder of a rival, Paul Big Paulie Castellano. Interestingly the role of drugs and the morality of the gangs in dealing played a part. Gotti’s mentor, a gent with the name of Aneillo Mr Neil Dellacroce, was an adherent of the old Mafia rule of You Deal, You Die. The new regime soon blew away Big Paulie and Mr Neil.

The thousand dollar suits, the diamond rings and the mane of silver hair put Gotti on to the front cover of Time magazine and fed a giant ego. And it is hard not to conclude that ego as well as greed has played a role

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